Word Of The Month: Mount Everest

Fifty years ago this month, on 29 May 1953, two men, New Zealander Edmund Hillary (b. 1919) and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay (1914–1986) became the first humans to ascend to the summit of Mount Everest, at 29,028 feet (8848 meters) the highest mountain on earth.

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of this event, our Word of the Month is:

Mount Everest, prop.n., Himalayan peak on the border of Nepal and Tibet, the highest in the world. It is named for Sir George Everest (1790-1866), surveyor-general of India. Cf. Chomolungma, Sagarmatha.

Hillary and Tenzing were members of the 1953 British expedition up the south face of Everest, under the leadership of John Hunt. The expedition established their base camp on 12 April and then set out to cross the Khumbu Icefall, a glacier with huge crevasses and massive blocks of ice and rock. Crossing the icefall is one of the most difficult and treacherous aspects of an ascent of Everest. 

By 21 May, the expedition had reached the South Col, at 26,000 feet (7925 m) a point from which attempts on the summit could be launched. On 26 May, a summit party comprising Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans left the South Col, but their progress was slow and they had to turn back after reaching the South Summit, at 28,700 feet only 300 feet below the top, due to lack of time.

Two days later, on 28 May, Hillary and Norgay began their summit attempt. They established a camp at 27,900 feet (8503 m) before starting their summit attempt at 6.30 a.m. Climbing steadily, they reached the South Summit at 9 a.m. Continuing on, the two climbers reached the highest point on earth at 11.30 a.m. Running low on oxygen, the two remained at the summit for only fifteen minutes before beginning their descent. The news of the successful climb did not reach Britain until 2 June, the eve of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.

Climbing The South Face of Everest

Base Camp, at the foot of the Khumbu Icefall at 17,700 feet.

Khumbu Icefall, a 2,200-foot ascent up the glacier to the Western Cwm.

Western Cwm, a broad, flat glacial valley that leads from the Khumbu Icefall to the Lhotse Face.

Lhotse Face, an ascending wall of ice that rises some 3,700 feet at 40-50o angles. Lhotse means south peak and is the name of the mountain immediately south of Everest, separated from Everest by the South Col.

Geneva Spur, a large outcropping of rock at the top of the Lhotse Face, 24,000 feet, named in 1952 by a Swiss expedition.

South Col, a saddle at 26,000 feet, named by the British expedition of 1921. Used by modern expeditions as the location of their high camp.

Southeast Ridge, begins at “The Balcony,” a platform at 27,700 feet, and rises up to the South Summit.

South Summit, a dome of ice and snow at 28,700 feet, the decision point to either continue to the summit or turn around and descend.

Cornish Traverse, a 400-foot exposed traverse along a narrow ridge, with drops of 10,000 and 8,000 feet to either side. The Cornish Traverse leads to the Hillary Step.

Hillary Step, the last obstacle before the summit, a 40-foot spur of snow and ice at 28,750 feet. Hillary and Norgay were the first to climb the step and named it for Hillary, the more experienced technical climber of the two.

Summit, the top of the world, 29,028 feet (8848 m).

Climbing the North Face
First accomplished by the 1960 Chinese expedition.

Base Camp, immediately below Rongbuk Glacier, at 17,000 feet.

Rongbuk Glacier, climbs up 6,000 feet to the North Col.

North Col, a low point on the North Ridge at 23,000 feet.

First Step, 110-foot rock wall at 27,890-28,000 feet.

Second Step, 160-foot high series of rock walls and ledges at 28,140-28,300 feet.

Third Step, 100-foot high rock wall immediately above the Second Step. Much of the third step can be skirted by a traverse.

Summit Pyramid, a steep snowfield rising at angles of 50-60o, ending some 60 feet below the Summit.

The Summit
The following are some mountaineering and Everest terms:

Abseil, v., to descend by sliding down a rope, to rappel, from the German abseilen, ab (down) + seil (rope), 1933.

Acute Mountain Sickness, n., also AMS, a medical syndrome caused by rapid ascension to high altitudes. Symptoms include headache, fatigue, breathlessness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and difficulty sleeping. AMS is relatively minor but can lead to more serious, sometimes fatal, conditions.

Adze, n., an axe with the blade set at right angles to the handle and curving inward, often one end of an ice axe head, from the Old English adesa, c.880.

Arête, n., a narrow ascending ridge running up a mountain, from the French meaning ridge, sharp edge, 1862.

Avalanche, n., a large mass of snow and ice that descends a mountain side, from the dialectical French meaning descent, 1771.

Barn door, v., to lose the foot and hand holds on one side of the body, causing the climber to swing like a door.

Base camp, n., the lowest and largest camp on an expedition, the primary logistical point for an exhibition.

Because it is there, quote, said by legendary climber George Leigh Mallory when asked why wanted to climb Everest. Mallory, 37, along with fellow climber Andrew Irvine, 22, were lost in an attempt to climb the north face of Everest in 1924. In 1975, a Chinese expedition found the body of an “English dead” on the north face, just below the first step. It was believed at the time to be Irvine’s. Mallory’s body was found in that vicinity in 1999; he had died in a fall. It is not known whether this was the same body that the Chinese had found 24 years earlier.

Belay, v., to fasten or secure with a rope, to prevent from falling by use of a rope, originally nautical jargon, 1549. In mountaineering use by 1910.

Bergschrund, n., crevasse(s) at the head of a mountain glacier, from the German berg (mountain) + schrund (crevice), 1843.

Black ice, n., a thin layer of transparent ice, 1829.

Brain bucket, n., helmet, originally US Air Force slang, 1955.

Buttress, n., a projection of rock from the side of a mountain, 1682.

Chimney, n. & v., a cleft in a vertical cliff, resembling a flue, which can be scaled, usually by pressing rigidly against the opposite sides, 1871; to climb a chimney, 1940.

Chomolungma, prop.n., Tibetan name for Mount Everest, meaning mother goddess of the earth.

Col, n., a depression between two slopes or peaks, a high mountain pass, from the French, ultimately from the Latin collum or neck, 1853.

Coomb, n., a deep hollow or valley, from the Old English cumb, also spelled cwm, from the Welsh.

Cornice, n., an overhanging accumulation of ice and snow at the edge of a ridge or cliff, from the French or Italian. Originally an architectural term from the 16th century, in mountaineering use from 1871.

Couloir, n., a steep gully running down a mountainside, from the French for colander, passage, 1855.

Crack, n., fissure in a rock wall, varying in width from nail- to body width.

Crag, n., a steep, rugged rock, from Gaelic although the exact origin is uncertain, cognates exist in all the Gaelic languages, c.1300.

Crampon, n., a metal spiked plate attached to boots to assist in climbing in snow and ice, from the French, 1789.

Crater, v., to fall and hit the ground from height.

Crevasse, n., a fissure or chasm in a glacier, from the French, 1823, cognate with crevice.

Crux, n., the most difficult point in a climb.

Fixed rope, n., a rope, or series of ropes, anchored to the mountain to assist climbers over steep, exposed terrain, usually installed by preceding climbing teams.

Free climbing, n., style of climbing using only hands, feet, and natural holds. Ropes are used only for protection from falls. Also free solo, free climbing with no ropes.

Glacier, n., a large, slow-moving mass of ice, from the French, 1744.

Glissade, v. & n., to slide down an icy or snow-covered slope, from the French, originally used to describe a dance step, applied to mountaineering in 1859.

HACE, abbrev., High Altitude Cerebral Edema, swelling of the brain resulting from rapid ascents at altitudes above 9,000 feet (2,700 m). Symptoms range from headache and confusion to coma and death.

HAPE, abbrev., High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, swelling of the lung tissue resulting from rapid ascents at altitudes above 9,000 feet (2,700 m), symptoms range from cough to coughing bloody sputum to coma and death.

Headwall, n., steep cliff face at the head of a valley, 1904.

Himalayas, prop.n., mountain range in central Asia containing the highest peaks on earth, from the Sanskrit hima (snow) + alaya (abode).

Hypoxia, n., a lack of oxygen, 1941, the chief danger to climbers of Everest.

Ice axe, n., tool for cutting steps or holds in ice and snow, 1820.

Icefall, n., a cataract of ice, a portion of a glacier resembling a waterfall, 1817.

Jumar, n. & v., a clip attached to a fixed rope that automatically tightens when weight is applied and relaxes when it is removed, facilitating the climbing of the rope, a climb using jumars, to climb with the aid of jumars, from a Swiss name, 1966.

K2, prop.n., the second highest mountain on earth, 28,251 feet (8,611 m), first climbed in 1954 by Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli. Although not as high as Everest, it is considered a much more challenging climb. Designated K2 by Col. T.G. Montgomery in 1856, the K is for the Karakorum range, K2 was the second peak in that range that he sighted. Also known as Chogori and Mount Godwin-Austen.

Karabiner, n., a metal oval or D-shaped ring with a gate that prevents accidental opening, clipping of the German karabiner-haken or spring hook. Often spelled carabiner in the U.S. Also biner.

Layback, n. & v., a method of climbing vertical cracks by gripping the edge with the hands, leaning back and placing the feet flat on the rock at the side of the crack and slightly below the hands. As the climber pulls on the edge of the crack and presses his feet against the rock, the opposing pressures exerted can be sufficient to support the body, 1925.

Moraine, n., a mound or ridge of rock and other debris carried and deposited by a glacier, moraines are usually found at a glacier’s edge, from the French, 1783.

Notch, n., a small col, 1718.

Piton, n., a metal spike with a hole, or eye, at one end for securing a rope, jammed into cracks or hammered into rocks climbers use them in ascent and descent, from the French for eye bolt, 1898.

Rappel, n., technique of descent by sliding down a rope, from the French rappeler or to recall, 1931, used as verb since 1957. Cf. abseil.

Sagarmatha, prop.n., Nepalese name for Mount Everest, meaning churning stick in the sea of existence.

Scrambling, n., easy climbing, usually unroped.

Sherpa, n., a Tibetan people living in the Himalayas, 1847, from the Tibetan shar (east) + pa (people), in transferred use meaning a mountain guide or porter.

Sirdar, n., the lead guide/porter on an expedition, from the Persian sar (head) + dar (possessor), used by the British in India to denote a valet or bearer since 1782.

Summit, n., the highest point a mountain or rock, from the Anglo-French sumette, 1481. Also a verb meaning to reach the summit of a mountain.

Traverse, v. & n., to move horizontally across the face of a mountain, a place where one traverses, 1983.

Yeti, n., mythical ape-man of the Himalayas, a.k.a., the abominable snow man, from the Tibetan for man-like animal, 1937.

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